Winter of Dreams novella in Colorado Courtship by Cheryl St. John
Tessa joined them, carrying a tray loaded with a teapot and three cups. “Time for refreshment, don’t you agree?”
She set the tray on a nearby table and served them.
Ben Charles watched Violet’s demeanor change, and recognized she was uncomfortable with the role reversal. “We don’t want to push ourselves on you, Violet,” he said in a gentle tone.
Her dark gaze moved to his, and he read her uncertainty.
“Perhaps if you think of Sunday as a family day, and remember we want you as part of our family, you’ll be more comfortable.”
A flicker of pain crossed her features, but she quickly hid it. “I’ll try.”
The afternoon sun streaming through the front windows enhanced the color of her eyes, which always appeared so dark. In this light they were a rich deep mahogany, flecked with gold and green. The last thing he wanted to do was crowd her and scare her off. Apparently she had no one else, and everyone needed a family. His might be small, but he and Tessa had a lot to offer.
“We have a new player to draw into our games?” his sister said as she settled beside Violet. The last word had ended on a higher note, indicating her question.
“I was hoping to make a good impression this first weekend,” he replied with good humor. “Not send her packing.”
“What games are you referring to?” Violet asked.
Tessa got up and took one of the game boards from the wall.
“I thought those were colorful lithographs,” Violet said with surprise.
“They’re game boards,” Tessa replied. “This one is my favorite.
The game she referred to was Round the World with Nellie Bly. Tessa had loved to play this one since she was a child. “She’s read Nellie Bly’s book a dozen times,” Ben Charles told Violet.
“Have you read it?” Tessa asked, her expression animated.
“Indeed I have,” Violet answered. “I was twelve when she made headlines. My father and I followed her column in the New York World from the moment she left Jersey City, through the Mediterranean, across the Suez Canal and the Indian Ocean, to Japan, all the way until she arrived in New York City. It was the most exciting adventure a girl could imagine.”
The pleasure on Tessa’s face was worth a hundred Sunday afternoons of playing her game. “I was too young then to remember,” she said. “But I read the newspaper accounts in the archives at the library.”
Their conversation convinced Ben Charles once and for all that God had answered his prayers and sent Violet. Emotion spread throughout his chest, like a comforting emollient for a previously aching heart. Thank You, Lord. Your mercies are indeed new every morning.
“How do you play?” Violet asked.
From a cabinet, Tessa gathered the spinner and worn wooden tokens and explained the simple forward and backward movement in the spiral of spaces. “This isn’t Ben Charles’s favorite game, but he indulges me.”
Violet met his eyes, her appreciation and compassion obvious. She gave him a tentative smile that changed the warmth in his chest to something else. Something hotter and more surprising.
Something that didn’t resemble appreciation in the least.
“What is your favorite game?” she asked.
“I don’t mind a competitive game of croquet,” he replied. “Weather permitting.”
“I keep telling him there is a parlor croquet set in Mr. Levine’s shop.”
He grimaced. “If it must be a board game, then I prefer Carrom.”
“You fling little disks across the board into pockets.” Tessa wrinkled her nose the same way she had since she was five and pointed to one of the larger boards on the wall. “Did your family play games at home?”
“Only checkers,” Violet answered.
“Maybe we could read Around the World in Seventy-Two Days together,” Tessa suggested.
Violet didn’t blink an eye. “I would enjoy that.”
Ben Charles believed she meant it.
Violet joined the play with enthusiasm, and the two young women pointed put the details of the book at each space on the board. His sister’s animation and smile gave him immense satisfaction. The game lasted a couple of hours, until he got hungry. “I’m going to go get us a tray of ham and cheese and bread.”
“I can do that,” Violet spoke up.
“It’s your day off,” he reminded her. “We’re used to fending for ourselves on Sunday evenings. We can pop corn over the fire later.”
It was obvious their routine and customs were new to Violet. He and his sister spent a lot of time alienated from others, but perhaps even in their seclusion they’d been more like a family than anything Violet had experienced.
They shared a simple meal, and later ate popcorn. Tessa played a few pieces on the pianoforte. When she’d finished she said to Violet, “I had a nice time. Thanks for joining the game.”
“It was my pleasure.”
Tessa kissed Ben Charles’s cheek. “Thank you, too. And don’t say it was your pleasure.”
“It’s my pleasure to see you happy.”
She briefly pressed her cheek to his. I’m going upstairs to read before bed. Good night.”
Once she was gone, Violet stood and leaned over to gather their dishes on the tray. Without standing, Ben Charles extended his hand and placed it on her wrist. “I’ll do that.”
She looked at his hand, but he didn’t remove it.
He should have.
She was new to their household. He intended for theirs to be a strictly working relationship, but he felt a constant need to assure her she was part of their family. He had no business changing their agreement or making her uncomfortable by letting new feelings get in the way.
She’d only been here a few days.
In those brief moments while her gaze moved from his hand to his face, he went over all the reasons why he needed to keep his distance.
But everything about Violet appealed to him and made him feel protective. He told himself he held only a brotherly concern, like that he felt for Tessa, but the lie didn’t convince him.